Homs, Douma, Sinjar – three centers of recent wars. The unique time-lapse project Sound Memories lets you experience peace and fighting with your own ears.
Looking back on the last few decades, it’s miracle mankind is still alive and kicking – at least to a certain extent. Given the cadence of social turmoil, wars, natural disasters, epidemics, or financial recessions, it’s easy to wonder whether they are still an exception or merely a norm that we don’t want to get used to.
As history unravels and new conflicts shape its form, it is easy to forget the old ones – those that once used to make the headlines and spark public outrage. Needless to say, many of the recent struggles have not been resolved, and people still suffer in many places around the world. We’ve just turned our attention away.
A new project called Sound Memories now aims to remind us that, despite the global pandemic and emerging economic decline, the situation in many Middle Eastern countries is still dire. Designed by Czech journalists Jarmila Štuková and creative director Andrej Štuk, the web application lets you listen to the everyday sounds in the Iraqi city of Sinjar and the Syrian cities of Homs and Douma. What makes Sound Memories unique is that listeners can experience the sonic setting in each town from three perspectives: before, during, and after the war.
Nine 40-second clips are accompanied by short videos, adding to the heavy atmosphere of the project, and brief descriptions of the local situation.
Since the website is accessible only in Czech, we have translated portions of the Sound Memories summaries for context. The audio segments are available only on the website.
BEFORE THE WAR: The finest silk. Beautifully interwoven traditional muslin fabrics. Olive oil. Sesame. You could find all that in the West Syrian city of Homs. Before the war, the town was an important commercial and cultural center that connected the coast with the rest of the country. During the times of peace, various festivals took place in Homs, and tourists from all over the world came to visit them. Muslims, Christians, and other religious groups lived side by side before the war.
DURING THE WAR: Homs is said to be the capital of the Syrian Revolution. It was here where the portraits of President Bashar al-Assad were first torn down. The riots broke out in May 2011, and clashes between the rebels and the army quickly became a daily routine. While elsewhere, insurgents from the ranks of nationalists and military defectors prevailed, in Homs, mainly Islamists came to power. The Syrian army captured Homs in May 2014 after lengthy fighting.
AFTER THE WAR: The three years of the war irrevocably changed Homs. The infrastructure of the whole country has been disrupted, and important trade routes between the city and rural areas of the country ceased to function. The city lost its atmosphere and several monuments. Healthcare and education are non-existent. Drinking water is scarce. Nevertheless, some residents are trying to pick up where they left off before the war: A vegetable shop opens here and there, and people clean the streets together. Russia and the UN are also involved in the restoration of Homs and help, for example, with the renovation of the historic marketplace.
BEFORE THE WAR: The city of Douma is located close to the capital Damascus – in fact, it is basically its eastern suburb. The region is surrounded by mountains, and the Barada River flows through it. The land there has always been fertile, so a significant agricultural belt was created around the city. In the 1980s, the zone was significantly industrialized under the leadership of then-President Hafiz al-Assad. Today, his son Bashar rules Syria.
DURING THE WAR: Since the beginning of the war, Douma has been one of the main centers of conflict – it was here where the rebels celebrated their first victories over the Syrian armed force. However, in April 2014, chemical weapons were used here during the fighting, and the city was attacked by a toxic substance that probably contained chlorine4, which irritates the respiratory tract and lungs and can lead to suffocation. It is still unknown which country was behind the attack. In April 2018, the Syrian government declared that the last insurgents had left the area.
AFTER THE WAR: Some Syrian cities are trying to start again: Homs or Aleppo, for example. Residents are trying to open shops and repair destroyed houses, although rockets fired from Idlib province still hit the city limits, where the remaining insurgents were deported. Douma, however, is far from restored and revitalized – the war ended here only recently. The houses are still in ruins, and there is still a smell of chlorine in the air.
BEFORE THE WAR: Ever since the 12th century, the region around Mount Sinjar has been inhabited by the Yazidi. In the 1980s, they became the target of the aggressive campaign of then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who forced them to leave the villages in the mountains and move to the city of Sinjar, which gradually became the home of tens of thousands of people. From the ethnic point of view, the Yazidis are a Kurdish group, and relations between the two communities have always been quite good. However, while the Kurds are predominantly Muslims, the Yazidis practice an ancient religion that mixes elements of ancient Persian teachings, Islam, Zoroastrianism, or Christianity.
DURING THE WAR: At the beginning of August 2014, ISIS soldiers invaded Sinjar. In a few days, they killed over three thousand people and kidnapped another nearly seven thousand Yazidis. Some people managed to escape, but their journey often ended in the inhospitable surrounding mountains. They succumbed to heat, dehydration, and hunger. Two days after the attack, the Kurds and Western countries began supplying them with food and water. The soldiers tried to save at least the children. The sound of helicopters became a symbol of salvation.
AFTER THE WAR: The streets of Sinjar are quiet. Too quiet. The fighting is over, but there are still hidden mines in the city. While most houses are now uninhabitable, Yazidis do not want to return to their city mainly from fear – the idea that the fighters of the self-proclaimed Islamic State will show up again terrifies them. They are even scared of their neighbors since some of them joined the Islamists’ ranks. Can Yazidis ever trust them again? Will they be able to live side by side? The local Kurdish administration is constantly arguing with the government in Baghdad, trying to find an agreement on who Mount Sinjar belongs to and who should take over the renewal of the city. The Yazidis can’t do not return home, and the world is slowly forgetting them.